Migration Crisis Amidst EU Chaos by Paul Priest


Migration Crisis Amidst EU Chaos by Paul Priest


The purpose of this article is to highlight what I see to be a critical point in EU policy development and public perception as relating to the migration crisis. Under pressure to act, leaders will provide extensive support to Syrian refugees, whilst tightening border management around the Mediterranean.

This will result in a tragic oversimplification of the migration crisis that will see Syrians to be provided near prima facie protection, whilst refugees from Africa will encounter a hardened border management response, including potential detention.

I finish the article with a list of fundamental operational strategies considered integral to any effective and durable solution.

Disclaimer from Paul Priest, the author of this article:

The views expressed within this article are my personal opinions only and do not in any manner reflect the position of my employer.


Chaos amidst Crisis:

Finding a Way Forward with Composure and Compassion


“Do something – Anything. Just do something”

The European Union (EU) is at a critical juncture in its search for a solution to its irregular migration and humanitarian challenges, and must urgently react with a durable solution that accounts for the true complexity of these mixed migration flows, which is increasingly taking shape as the world’s new mass migration.  The EU is now at a point where the distinction between who is considered to be a ‘refugee’ and who a ‘migrant’ is at risk of becoming dangerously over-simplified in the course of European leaders’ desperation to appease voters’ demand for a solution to the crisis.

In the absence of an effective solution, the scale of the challenge has continued to increase, and with this rise so too has increased the potential that the EU’s eventual response will take the form of an overreaction of the worst kind – one which panders to populist demands to ‘let them in’ and ‘keep them out’, whilst failing to provide due consideration for operational and humanitarian efficacy.

The risk is that the EU will respond to the migration crisis by forming two tragically oversimplified streams that simultaneously encourage further irregular migration whilst failing to fairly recognize the protection needs of many.

Refugees Welcome

The First Stream has already very much been defined as that reserved for Syrians, owed protection on something bordering on a prima facie basis. The plight of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country and entering Europe has taken centre stage[i] and is attracting new levels of sympathy and recognition from European citizens, civil society, and to an increasing extent, governments.[ii]

More needs to be done to safely facilitate the movement of Syrian nationals to humane settlement locations across Europe, and Europe is edging closer to providing assistance. However, in doing so, EU leaders must be keenly aware of the associated risks and challenges and ensure that the policy response is calculated and responsible. Of course, the granting of protection on prima facie basis will quite realistically result in millions of additional Syrians across the Middle East region, but mainly from Lebanon[iii], taking route to Europe across land and sea, resulting in countless more deaths, including for the most vulnerable.

This dynamic to the crisis is a reality and it is important to consider the scale of the displaced Syrian population: according to the UNHCR, 2.1 million Syrians were registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 1.9 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey, as well as more than 24,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.

The EU is terribly incapable of responding to such a significant surge with the required level of coordination, infrastructure and programs to ensure rescue, or post arrival support services, and important social cohesion programmes[iv].

Any decision to grant prima facie protection must come with the corresponding levels of support to address these issues. Policy makers must also be realistic and recognize that the Syrian caseload includes people posing as Syrians, including from neighboring countries, but also further afield including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh[v].  A prima facie arrangement for Syrians must account for the reality that significant numbers of migrants will exploit the situation, and place additional pressure on the services and infrastructure intended for the Syrian refugees.

The added benefit is that those who are not Syrian, but still require protection (Hazaras, Stateless Kurds) will hopefully gain from the situation through escalated protection processes and support in Europe.

Mixed Migrants not Welcome

Refugees and migrants departing from Africa are now, be it by policy, perspective or practice, becoming the EU’s Second Stream – a group of people who, unlike the Syrians, are at threat of coming to be defined as Economic Migrants first, and Refugees second, despite the compelling evidence[vi] of significant numbers of refugees coming from African countries like Somalia, South Sudan and Eritrea.

What we are witnessing in the coming weeks and months is a lurch towards blanket protection for Syrians en masse (and in doing so inclusion of considerable numbers of people who are not in need of protection). This will save lives and has also attracted considerable praise, but blanket protection for all irregular migrants is both unsustainable and ultimately contradicts the intent and purpose of the international protection framework. There is a fundamental need to resolve the EU’s current border-management fiasco, particularly in the Mediterranean, and leaders will need to propose and implement a response of unprecedented scale. Looking at what has worked in the past in the Mediterranean and around the world, including Australia, the response will quite likely involve re-visiting boat turn-arounds and the introduction of mandatory refugee processing centres in Northern African and/or Southern European countries. Despite the near impossible task of effectively patrolling the entire EU border, evidence also shows that detention does not deter irregular migration[vii]. Use of mandatory processing centres risks resulting in prolonged detention, breaches of human rights, international condemnation, and comes at significant financial costs.

The EU is now at a point where the distinction between who we consider to be a ‘refugee’ and a ‘migrant’ is at risk of becoming dangerously over-simplified in the course of European leaders’ desperation to appease voters’ demand for a solution to the crisis.  Whilst xenophobic sentiment continues to climb[viii] across Europe, so too are people beginning to gather and demand an effective and humane response with increasing fervor[ix] – it has reached the point where people from all camps have had enough.

A New Solution based on Hard Decisions

A system for effectively and fairly managing these mass arrivals requires some hard decisions to be made alongside unprecedented levels of cooperation to match the level of this challenge, as reflected in the number of people dying in failed attempts to reach the EU[x].  The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported in August 2015 that approximately 2,373 people have died this year in attempting to reach Europe by sea.[xi]

Irregular migration will always pose a challenge to the EU, as it does to most developed countries. However, there are fundamental operational practices that, under the coordination of a broader framework with regional support, can significantly contribute to saving lives, reducing irregular arrivals, providing protection, and strengthening borders.

The EU’s Ten Point Plan[xii], released in April this year, has contributed to saving lives but has ultimately failed to make any progress in bringing order to the border management crisis. As of 7 September, such as meaningful response remains woefully non-existent.

LeadershipEU leaders, including Germany, France and Italy need to use their influence to generate EU consensus for agreeing a solution including the establishment of an inter-agency Taskforce comprising key players capable of applying their expertise and resources in the field to implement informed, meaningful operational outputs.

Without risking oversimplification of the situation, there are international and regional players who need to be immediately brought together to form a coordinated response. With the International Organisation for Migration as overall coordinator, partners include the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for protection issues, Civil Society for reception and community services, and FRONTEX, supported by National Border Agencies, to manage borders. Significantly, leaders must generate consensus between EU Members to agree to host percentages of the overall number of arrivals on temporary residence permits with consistent levels of social assistance. Offers to accept pre-defined numbers of refugees, such as the UK government’s recent offer to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years[xiii], are not only pitifully inadequate (despite threatening the UK’s already strained social services), but completely fail to address the irregular migration aspect to the migration crisis and does nothing to resolve the border management chaos.

Saving livesThe most pressing need is for significantly increased resources to conduct rescue at sea operations as led by Maritime agencies on both sides of the Mediterranean and with support from regional partners. The outcome of this approach will increase the number of people rescued at sea.

Protection – There is also a controversial, but necessary need for the establishment of protection screening centres at source and transit locations, as overseen by the UNHCR.  New processes need to be put in place that include directly facilitating safe and orderly transfer to the EU for people screened to have initial protection needs or vulnerability. Screening and facilitating travel is already an engrained part of the international protection system as reflected in countries’ humanitarian programmes.

The outcome of targeted screening in source and transit locations along with facilitating travel to the EU will directly reduce the number of people risking their lives, and those of their loved ones, who would otherwise resort to using the services of people smugglers.  Yes, this process would be expensive and result in significant numbers of people coming to Europe, but the cost of human lives lost and the fact that people are entering the EU in mass numbers regardless whilst lining the pockets of people smugglers at the same time, is a far more significant reason for taking such a proactive approach that accounts for the true extent of the challenge.

Border ManagementThrough significantly increasing access to temporary visas for people from African source countries to travel to the EU to work, people will be provided an alternative to risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean.  Facilitating these flows to the EU in a regularised way will formally contribute to filling gaps in the labour market[xiv] and would strategically support border management and industry requirements as enshrined in legislation.

Although a sensitive subject, it is necessary that EU states do establish reception centres for the mandatory collection of biodata and determination of health status for all persons arriving in the EU irregularly by sea or land.

Such a mandatory process can be achieved in days, not weeks, and would provide a central component for strengthening border management as well as directly contributing to other key processes including protection assessments, identity verification, health determination and security processes.  A mandatory reception process is also fundamental for identifying the most vulnerable, including unaccompanied minors, and providing the requisite levels of support before their exposure to potential dangers associated with their ongoing travel within Europe, including trafficking.

The EU is at a critical juncture in its search for finding a solution to its irregular migration and humanitarian challenges.

Over time, leaders will be under tremendous pressure from citizens to come through with increasingly desperate actions to resolve this crisis and address the chaos. Some leaders will simply call to increase their intake of refugees, whereas others will call for tightened border management. What coordinated shape these actions will take, the costs and allocation of responsibility is yet to be seen, but if to be effective then they can only be achieved through acting with unprecedented levels of urgency and dedication, but also a new clarity and composure that realistically accounts for the dynamics running at the heart of this crisis.



[i] Hungary closes Serbian border crossing as refugees make for Austria on foot: www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/04/hungary-closes-main-border-crossing-with-serbia

[ii] ‘Refugees welcome’: Oxfordshire town grapples with how to respond www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/06/refugees-welcome-oxfordshire-town-grapples-with-how-to-respond

[iii] Syria Regional Refugee Response (Syrians in Lebanon): http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=122

[iv] This refugee crisis is too big for Europe to handle – its institutions are broken www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/04/this-refugee-crisis-is-too-big-for-europe-to-handle-its-institutions-are-broken

[v] The big passport scam: Pakistanis dumping IDs to become Syrian www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11509101

[vi] 2015 UNHCR regional operations profile – Africa: www.unhcr.org/pages/4a02d7fd6.html

[vii] Reframing immigration detention in response to irregular migration: Does Detention Deter? http://idcoalition.org/detentiondatabase/does-detention-deter/

[viii] Hungary’s Xenophobia and a European Crisis: www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-wp-blm-news-bc-bg-editorial-hungary03-20150903-story.html

[ix] 12 September Refugees Welcome Here: National Demonstration London: http://stopwar.org.uk/events/stop-the-war-events-national/12-september-refugees-are-welcome-here-national-day-of-action

[x] Deadly Milestone as Mediterranean Migrant Deaths Pass 2,000 www.iom.int/news/deadly-milestone-mediterranean-migrant-deaths-pass-2000

[xi] IOM Continues to Monitor Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals and Deaths www.iom.int/news/iom-continues-monitor-mediterranean-migrant-arrivals-and-deaths

[xii] Joint Foreign and Home Affairs Council: Ten point action plan on migrationhttp://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-4813_en.htm

[xiii] UK to accept 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020  www.bbc.com/news/uk-34171148

[xiv] Is migration good for the economy? www.oecd.org/migration/mig/OECD%20Migration%20Policy%20Debates%20Numero%202.pdf